In 1963, the owner of Svec & Sons in Berwyn deemed it time to upgrade the funeral home's fleet of hearses. Knowing he wanted the pinnacle of class and elegance, he headed to the local Cadillac dealer to purchase several new models. As part of the multivehicle deal for the parlor, the salesman threw in a special bonus: a Fleetwood 60 Special.
"When the family of the passed loved one couldn't afford limo service," said Ray Bombeck, the car's current owner, "he would drive them in this, his personal car."
Ray and most of his family lived in Berwyn at the time, including his uncle James. For the next couple of years, James would see the Fleetwood motoring about town and the sedan's drop-dead gorgeous looks always caught his eye. When Ray's uncle heard it was being offered up for sale in 1969, he wasted no time in scrambling over to express his interest.
The owner asked a nearby gas station to sell the Fleetwood for him and that's where James headed to complete the purchase.
"I remember as a young kid going over to my uncle's house, spending lazy Sunday afternoons washing the car with him," Ray recalls. "He taught me about detailing, making sure to get the details, like doorjambs, and having everything dry out properly."
Uncle James used the car on weekends, driving to church and for family ice cream outings. In 1977, Ray got married and used the opportunity to share with his uncle his interest in the car.
"He said, 'One day when you get a home and proper place to store it, I'll sell it to you,' "Ray said. That day came in 2000. During their house-hunting trips, Ray's wife would be inside, checking out each room, while Ray would be out looking at the garage, measuring available space.
They eventually found a home that satisfied both of their demands -- space to raise their kids and a garage big enough to store the massive, nearly 19-foot-long Fleetwood. True to his word, James sold the car to Ray, who now lives in Roselle.
The Cadillac was in good condition but because of its early years of regular use, it needed a light refresh. In 2006, the body and paint were redone, the engine rebuilt and some cosmetic touch-ups completed.
Ray's passion is still shared with James, who now lives in St. Charles.
"The car is all about luxury and style," Ray says. "It's a Cadillac; they said they were setting the standard of the world. With this car you truly feel it."
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